By Tina Saravia, U.C. Master Gardener, Solano County
It all started for me in September 2014, when I attended a talk on Permaculture in Benicia with another Master Gardener friend. I have heard of Permaculture for years, but it always seemed like a foreign concept to me. I did not know anyone, in my broad circle of urban horticulturally-inclined individuals, who practiced Permaculture. The fact that it was in Benicia, a 20- minute drive from my house, made it more real.
What is Permaculture? Permaculture is a word originally coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the mid 1970’s to describe an “integrated, evolving system of perennial or self-perpetuating plant and animal species useful to man” (Holgrem Design. https:// www.holmgren.com.au/about-permaculture/). Permaculture is a design system based on ecological principles. The word originally referred to “permanent agriculture.” It has more recently expanded to stand for “permanent culture.”
Permaculture can be defined and explained in many ways. It encompasses many aspects. In its simplest form, it is a design system that can be adapted anywhere in the world, in any setting — urban, suburban or rural, no matter the size of the property. One of those design aspects that is easily adaptable is Food Forest Gardening, which is what the local grassroots organization, Sustainable Solano, started in Benicia.
They help homeowners create their own sustainable food forest. The gardens feature edible plants in varying heights and sizes, mimicking a forest. The gardens use a combination of drip irrigation and greywater — laundry water. Swales or depressions, topped with wood chips, were dug to direct water from downspouts to also help water the gardens, which also helps refill the groundwater.
A few words about Sustainable Solano. It started out as Benicia Community Gardens. As the programs expanded beyond Benicia, the board decided to rename it Sustainable Solano in May 2016. They maintain a couple of community gardens, a community orchard, seven permaculture demonstration food forests, Community Supported Agriculture partnerships, a “Land Caretakers” sustainable landscaping education program, a food donation Share Plot, and a beloved monthly “What’s for Dinner?” educational cooking potluck series.
The most recent demonstration food forest installations were done in Vallejo, next is Fairfield. According to their website, sustainablesolano.org, they will be accepting applications starting in August through September for prospective demonstration food forest keepers in Fairfield.